Candidates Take '08 Race International

Polls suggest the economy is the No. 1 issue in the presidential race, but the candidates are turning their attention instead to matters of foreign policy.

Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain heads to Latin America this week while his Democratic rival will travel to the Middle East. Both hope not just to stamp their passports, but to give their campaigns an international boost, demonstrating strong leadership in the domain of foreign affairs.

For McCain, foreign affairs is a known strength. In recent weeks, the Arizona Senator has racked up the frequent-flier miles, showcasing his readiness to lead on the world stage.

He went to Canada to talk about free trade. He has met with European leaders. And, as he likes to point out, he's been to Iraq eight times, seven times more than Obama.

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It is a point McCain highlights on the stump when questioning Obama's judgment on Iraq.

"I don't know how you can draw conclusions such as Sen. Obama has without meeting with our commanders on the ground," McCain said at his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., earlier this month.

McCain's trip this week to Colombia and Mexico marks the debut of a new campaign plane. The "Straight Talk Express" is now airborne as McCain trumpets his support for free trade and his firsthand knowledge of the war on terror.

"Any day there's a discussion of national security or foreign policy, it's a good day for John McCain because it's one of the few issues that he leads on," says Matthew Dowd, a former Bush strategist and ABC News consultant.

Obama has had little time for foreign travel during the Democratic primaries. But in the coming weeks he's planning a whirlwind tour visiting England, France and Germany, as well as Israel and Jordan. He'll also pay his first visit to Afghanistan and his second to Iraq.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, says Obama has ground to make up where the war is concerned.

"Sen. Obama has to do this," Rothenberg says. "He has an advantage on almost every issue but not this one."

If Obama has something to prove internationally, some say McCain would do better now to focus his attention to the homefront.

"I don't think John McCain gains anything from any more foreign trips," Dowd says. "I think he's got that credential. I think that what he has to do is demonstrate that he has a voice on the economy and health care."

For McCain, domestic issues will have to wait, at least until he returns from Latin America, a trip that does have implications for the economy. McCain is expected to highlight his support for a Colombia free trade deal, a deal Obama opposes.